When it comes to working out, there’s a multitude of exercises that you can do to stay physically fit, boost core strength, and your body composition. However, one exercise that is often overlooked is the plank. Planks offer an effective way to tone your core muscles and they don’t require equipment. If they’re not part of your strength-training routine, they should be.
Why planks? Unlike abdominal crunches, planks don’t force you to flex your spine. That makes them a safer exercise for your neck and back. Plus, planks work all the muscles in your core, unlike abdominal crunches, which mainly work the vanity muscles, like the rectus abdominis, the pair of muscles that give your abs a six-pack definition.
Planks are an important exercise for a variety of reasons. First, they help improve posture by strengthening deep abdominal muscles, like the transverse abdominis, a muscle that helps stabilize your midsection and support your back and pelvis during movement. Plus, planks strengthen all the muscles in your core in a balanced manner.
Second, planks help improve your balance and stability. Third, planks help prevent back pain by strengthening the muscles around your spine that are so important for spine health. By holding the body in a plank position, the muscles surrounding your spine are forced to work hard to keep your body stable. This strengthens the muscles and helps to prevent injuries.
How Often Should You Plank?
The consensus is you shouldn’t strength train the same muscle group within a 48-hour period. So, if you squat using weights on Wednesday, you wouldn’t repeat the exercise until at least Friday. But the same rules don’t apply to planks. Planks are an isometric exercise where your muscles contract but don’t change length. Holding a plank position engages your core muscles, making them work hard to keep you stable. You aren’t contracting your core muscles against heavy resistance but only stabilizing them against gravity.
Because you’re not breaking down a lot of muscle fibers with planks, you can do them every day. Some people even do them several times a day and use them to take a break from sitting. Getting into a plank position and tightening your abs isometrically is beneficial for body alignment. It’s easy to relax too much and let your body slouch when you sit in a chair too long. Planks are a way to reset your posture.
Planks Are a Functional Exercise
Planks are an effective functional exercise too. Beyond building strength and endurance in your core, this isometric exercise helps improve core stability, which can lower your risk of injury when you train. Planking also improves balance. The most effective planks for improving balance are variations where your body is in an unstable position.
The single-leg plank is a great exercise for improving balance and coordination. To perform this exercise, start in a standard plank position with your hands and feet on the ground. Then, raise one leg off the ground and hold for 30-60 seconds. Be sure to keep your core engaged the entire time and your body in a straight line. The side plank is another plank variation that helps improve balance.
So, you can do exercises to work on balance and stability throughout the day if you desire. Some people find planks to be relaxing and a way to release tension and stress. So next time you’re feeling stressed or sluggish at work, take a break and do a few planks.
Include Plank Variations in Your Fitness Routine Too
Most people start with a standard plank, which can be a high plank or a low plank. The main difference between the two is the position of your arms. In a high plank, your body is in a push-up position, with your hands directly below your shoulders and your arms extended straight from shoulders to floor.
In a low plank, your body is in a forearm plank position, with your elbows directly below your shoulders. Both exercises are excellent for toning your core muscles, but the low plank is more difficult when you’re first starting out.
Once you’ve mastered a basic plank (high or low) there are at least 50 other plank variations you can try, some of which are quite challenging. Each variation has its own benefits. The standard plank is effective for strengthening the core while side planks target the obliques, the muscles located on the sides of your pelvis. You need strong obliques to bend, twist, and rotate your trunk. Your oblique muscles are also important for stabilizing your spine and helping your body move in a smooth and coordinated manner. So, make sure you’re doing side planks to work your obliques.
You can even get creative by doing a reverse plank, a variation that targets your upper body, specifically your shoulders, chest, and arms. Additionally, they work your core muscles, including your abs and back. Here’s how to do one:
- Sit on the ground with your legs extended in front of you and your arms by your sides.
- Place your palms on the ground behind you, fingers facing away from your body.
- Use your core muscles to lift your hips and lower back off the ground, so that your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds, then slowly lower your hips and back to the ground.
- Repeat 2-3 times.
How Long Should You Hold a Plank?
The current world record holder for planks is George Hood, a former U.S. Marine. He held a plank for 8 hours and 15 minutes. But you don’t have to hold one that long to get benefits.
How often can you do planks? As often as you’d like. You can use planks to realign your posture after sitting for a while or do them during your daily workouts. On days you’re doing an aerobic workout, you can do planks during the cooldown before stretching. They’re a fun and effective exercise that has many benefits.
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